The mason orchard bee is one of 4,000 species of native bees in the United States. Most people don’t realize that natives do a better job of pollinating plants than honeybees, which came to this country from Europe. Some native species will use pollen from only one family of flowering plant. Some will only pollinate tomatoes or plants in the Cucurbit family, others will pollinate a variety of plants from spring through fall and some, like the orchard bee, have life spans that limit the period when they pollinate. Masons are solitary like most native bees. This means that each one tends to its own brood, instead of having a queen and worker bees. However, they seem to like the company of others of their kind and happily build their nests next to each other. They also readily accept the hollow tubes provided by the orchard grower for this purpose. This proves to be very beneficial to the fruit tree grower because it makes it easy to manage this valuable orchard helper.
To attract native bee pollinators of all kinds, try the following:
• Plant a variety of natives flowers in different colors and shapes. If possible, have plants in bloom from early spring through fall.
• Do not plant modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “double” flowers, which are shy of the nectar, pollen and fragrance that attract pollinators.
• Be sure that nesting materials and nesting sites are available—leaves, petals, mud, water.
• For native bees, nesting and foraging sites should be close together.
• Bees need shelter in the form of windbreaks or snags. Many species, such as the mason bee, like a south-facing nesting site.
• If possible, avoid the use of pesticides, but do use integrated pest management.
• To determine the species of native bees in your area, consult the entomologist at your local Extension Service and find out the specific nesting requirements they have.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.